Why Advertising Has a Bad Reputation

3 Reasons Why Advertising Has a Bad Reputation (And What to Do About It)

The general public tends to view advertising in one of two ways. Both are negative. First, advertisements are annoying, intrusive, and distracting. Second, the public views advertising as manipulative.

Why does advertising have a bad reputation? As someone who loves business, I think about this a lot. There are cultural, economic, and historical reasons that explain advertising’s current situation. 

The idea behind advertising is simple. It exists to overcome the challenge of promoting quality products to people who genuinely need them. It’s getting in front of the right people at the right time with a product or service that benefits them. That’s it.  

More than half the “persuasion” that occurs is in making sure you’re talking to the right person. The other part of persuasion has nothing to do with hypnotism, sales tricks or magical phrases. The best persuasive techniques are often common courtesy and putting others’ interests before your own.  

Nonetheless, advertisers do know something about human nature. And there are cases of advertisers abusing the stage they’re given. So, let’s get to the nitty gritty. Here are 3 reasons why advertising has a bad reputation and what to do about it.  

1. Advertising appears to manipulate the public

The general public tends to view advertising in one of two ways. Both are negative. First, advertisements are annoying, intrusive, and distracting. Second, the public views advertising as manipulative. 

The first view is informed by experience. The second by movies and shows like Mad Men or What Women Want. 

The second view is often also held by people aspiring to break into advertising fields such as copywriting. Copywriting courses are often pitch the idea that students will learn “secret techniques” to improve sales. The mystique and curiosity of persuasive writing captures the imagination.  

In his book, Ogilvy On Advertising, David Ogilvy tells a story about the one ad he never ran because of its use of “hypnotism.” 

“I myself once came near to doing something so diabolical that I hesitate to confess it even now, 30 years later. Suspecting that hypnotism might be an element in successful advertising, I engaged a professional hypnotist to make a commercial. When I saw it in the projection room, it was so powerful that I had visions of millions of suggestible consumers getting up from their armchairs and rushing like zombies through the traffic on their way to buy the product at the nearest store.” (Ogilvy, 209).  

Keep in mind, Ogilvy had a vested interest in persuading people to learn copywriting to work for him to expand his agency. I don’t believe such techniques to be half as effective as he describes.  

How do advertisers view themselves?

Most advertisers I know think it’s an exciting business and enjoy the challenge and opportunity to think creatively. Advertisers typically view their methods as an efficient way to sell.  

Claude Hopkins ends his autobiography, My Life in Advertising, with this observation: “The happiest are those who live closest to nature, an essential to advertising success.” (Hopkins, 210) 

What makes advertising more fun now than ever is that it’s no longer just for the agencies or big corporations. Social media has leveled the playing field. Any small business can advertise their products and services themselves if they know how to target online.  

2. Advertisers don’t produce the profit they promise for businesses

In some cases, advertising can hurt business. Usually this is more of a timing issue than a poor campaign strategy. Other times, it can be due to flawed understanding of what advertising is or bad expectations.  

The best agencies realize advertising is “salesmanship in print.” It’s easy to overemphasize the artistic side of advertising (commercials, photography, murals, etc.) and move away from the economic side.  

For example, here’s another Claude Hopkins quote: “Style is a handicap. Anything that takes attention from the subject reduces the impression… it indicates a lack of sincerity. It suggests an effort to sell. And we are all on our guard when somebody, apparently, is trying to get our money away.” (Hopkins, 125) 

Another reason that can affect advertising’s effectiveness is if businesses fail to resist the temptation to boast. One of the golden rules of advertising is to never argue to your advantage. Every product and service must be presented as an altruistic offer.  

3. The products advertisers successfully promote end up being bad for you

Cigarettes. Liquozone. Fast food. The list of now debunked products goes on.  

Legendary ad campaigns were created for Marlborough, Lucky Strike and many other cigarette companies. And they worked incredibly well—even after medical reports showed a direct link between smoking and lung cancer and other health problems.  

Incidents like this not only damaged the reputation of advertising as an industry but the personal character of advertisers. But advertisers cannot take the brunt of the blame. Businesses are continually developing new products that appear at the time of their creation to be good and helpful.  

Modern examples of advertising working for good are shown in the promotion of proper recycling practices and products made from recyclable materials. Advertising is a tool for getting products in front of the right audience and getting them to buy. The tool can be used for good or bad. 

Good Advertising 

The only way to combat these negative associations is to detail the principles of good advertising. What are the characteristics of good, ethical advertising? There are at least five.  

Advertising is about promoting service not art 

There’s no “secret formula” to magically get people to buy. It’s about reaching your audience with an offer that appeals to them. An ad that tries to persuade people who are not the target audience will nearly always fail.  

In general, it always easier to sell to an existing customer/user than to produce a new one. Reaching the right people is the first thing to stress. 

Advertising is about educating not manipulating 

This is especially true for new products. Historically, the best paper ads have been the ones that describe in detail the features or benefits of a product. Educating buyers is more important, more potent, and more effective for putting your product in their hands. 

Advertisers should believe in the product they’re promoting 

Most agencies no longer advertise products that are known to be harmful. Consider that before an advertisement is distributed, it’s scrutinized by a team of lawyers, The National Broadcasting Association, and other bodies. The Better Business Bureau also reviews suspected violations of codes.  

Advertising does not make outrageous claims 

Claims like “Mine is the original” or “be sure to get the genuine,” are expected. The more specific the claims, the better. Use specific data—and tell the truth about what the data says. Everyone knows you can skew statistics to say what you want them to say.

It’s unfortunate that advertising today shares the same shady status as used car lots. Of course, certain individuals in both professions deserve the negative reputation they have. But time and again shows the services offered by these industries are invaluable to consumers and clients. 

The Trade Group provides unique structures that help brands make unforgettable experiences for their customers. To discover how we can help you attract more buyers, contact us here or give The Trade Group a call at 972-301-7713.

Photo Credit: Dall-E

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